10 Proven Tips for Making Your Trigger E-Mail Program a Success!

These days, everyone and their brother has a thrust e-mail program but surprisingly, very few folks have triggers.

Trigger e-mails, also known as good dog e-mails, are sent to individuals based on actions.  The action could be good (thanking them for an order), bad (when they abandoned a cart, for example) or indifferent (confirming a vote in a poll) but it’s always a happening/event/instance.  Triggers are successful because they have higher response rates, better deliverability and improved LTP (lifetime profit.)

So, how do you make a trigger program work for your business?   Here are ten proven tips…

  1. First things first.  Like most e-mails, the majority of your success will come from outside the envelope – in other words, make sure to spend some time perfecting your “from” address (works best if it comes from a “real” person);  “to” address; subject line (you have 24-35 characters because that’s what fits in most inboxes); the first two lines of the e-mail (statistically over half the people stop reading after the first two lines); the format and the deliverability.
  2. Inside the envelope, work the top two inches of your e-mail.  A lot of companies really blow the “preview pane” of the e-mail – they stuff in a bunch of irrelevant copy (for example, an unsubscribe message, which should NEVER go at the top) or even worse,  they’ll leave the first two inches blank, just a meaningless blob of white space.  The best e-mailers know that “you need to work your window” – meaning make sure that whatever you want the reader to know is right up top.  For example, if you have an offer and/or a deadline, it needs to be in that space.  If you’re featuring new products, make sure you have an “xx new items” headline at the top. 
  3. Implement your trigger program in stages.  Lots of folks wait till they can do all the triggers, which isn’t the best strategy as some are so much more difficult than others.  Figure out which ones you can do easily and start with those.  Some ideas would be abandoned cart, abandoned search, abandoned site, EBOPP (e-mail based on past purchase), EBOSI (e-mail based on selected interest), we’ve missed you, a celebration (happy birthday, congratulations on the new baby), ask the experts (tips, case studies, podcasts, webinars), surveys, and automatic reactivation promotional programs.
  4. Start simple.  Is the list of e-mails above overwhelming?  Then start by improving your order and shipping confirmations and/or your thank you e-mails.  Make sure you have nice thank you e-mails for everything that the user does on your site – signing up for your FREE newsletter, requesting a catalog, registering at your site, filling out a request for quote, and so on.  Look carefully at each of those e-mails and figure out what you can do to improve it – what it would take to make someone want to click on it and do/buy/view more?  Does every e-mail you send out look like it’s from a real person?  Is it written like a letter you’d read?  Does it have things of interest that they haven’t seen before?  Will it make them want to click?
  5. The magic formula for triggers is all about the timing.  Reward them for what they do right (and wrong), at the perfect times.  Always and often!  For example, using one abandoned cart e-mail is ok but using a series of five (or more) is fantastic and really makes a program.  You need to keep in contact with them till they take another action – finish their checkout, add to their order, complete their lead form, request a quote, register for a webinar and so on.   The more you ask for what you want, the greater the chance you have of getting it.   In about 95% of the cases, the first trigger in a series should be sent out within two hours of the action.  So, in a perfect world, if a user goes to your site, puts stuff in their cart and then abandons it, they will get their first abandoned cart e-mail within a couple hours (the sooner the better as long as it’s not in the repeat window.)  If you can’t deploy those e-mails one-by-one and you simply must do a batch process, do it.  It’s not the best choice, but it’s far better than nothing.
  6. Use an offer with a deadline.  Deadlines work because they create urgency and cause people to focus.  Can’t give anything away?  That’s ok but figure out how to incorporate a deadline anyway – there are lots of choices — limited quantity/limited supply, a limited-time sneak peek, etc.
  7. Personalize as much as you can.  If someone abandons a cart on your site, show them what was in their cart in the e-mail.  Make it easy for them to complete their order.  Never press though – pressing is knowing too much about someone (for example,  “you were at our site at 12:03 this afternoon and you were looking at…” – that’s just too much and users typically don’t respond well to it.)
  8. Don’t spend a ton of time nitpicking the creative.  The best trigger campaigns are not always the ones that are the most aesthetically pleasing.  In fact, they’re usually the ones from the companies who have the timing and the message down right.  Mailing the right offer (message) at the right time is far more important than having everything just perfect.  (Remember, e-mails are meant to be clicked on, not necessarily to be read or printed out and hung on your wall!)  That’s not to say that the visuals are not important because they are critical – people see things in pictures online – however, it is to suggest that you don’t need to make your designer go through 111 versions of a trigger to get it just right. 
  9. Don’t forget the buttons.   Triggers, just like thrusts, need very solid action directives – big, red, CLICK HERE NOW buttons that get them to click to your site, cart, lead form, or wherever else you want to put them.  Make sure to include at least one button in every view. 
  10. The person with the most e-mail addresses wins.  You can’t send a trigger e-mail out to someone if you don’t have their e-mail address.  So, if you’re going to commit to a trigger campaign/program, you need to collect e-mails anywhere and everywhere you can on your site.  Make sure your e-mail captures are on every view of your site – not just along the bottom.  Try using pop-ups on exit, especially for abandoned carts and searches.  (Don’t think pop-ups work?  Try them.  You’ll be pleasantly surprised.)
  11. BONUS TIP:  Track.  Track.  Track.  It doesn’t matter what you do if you’re not measuring it properly.  When it comes to triggers, look at open and delete rates; clickthrough rates; page views/user paths; AAUS (active average user session) and time spent on launch; drills/actions; passalong rate, action rate (carts opened, lead forms completed) and item sales (be sure to include feature items and items that were not in the e-mail.)   Build on your success.  If something works, keep doing it and keep improving it.


  1. says

    When you talk about timing for the first trigger email, you say, “the sooner the better as long as it’s not in the repeat window.” I’m not clear what you mean by the term “repeat window”.

    Good article, as usual!

    • says

      Good question Irving!

      The repeat window occurs when the user comes back within the first hour (or sometimes two.)

      So, if you come to my site and then you come back within 3 minutes, you are in the repeat window and sending me an e-mail can often be confusing. (This is something to be tested.)

      This happens a lot with B2B companies and B2C companies selling technology products. It also happens in places where there is a lot of competition.

      Hope this helps. If not, please let me know and I will take another shot at it.

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